What about us?
That is the impassioned call today from furious passengers, community leaders and transport campaigners across Blackpool after the Government revealed the resort will finally get extra capacity on its packed commuter trains to and from Manchester Airport – but half of all services will be replaced by ancient carriages to make it happen.
Northern Rail trains more than 20 years old will be on every other service on the route, sparking fears they it will leave a bad impression on tourists visiting the resort.
And campaigners are furious that old rail stock is being brought to the town following one of its best ever summers, while newer trains are being moved to Cumbria and a string of multi-million pound rail projects continue in the south.
The new service between Blackpool North and Manchester Airport starts in May, as part of the Government’s bid to improve rail services across the north for passengers and the economy.
But passengers, transport leaders and campaigners fear the new units will be older, more likely to break down and less comfortable, leaving an appalling first impression of Blackpool as a tourist destination.
Claire Smith, of Stay Blackpool and co-owner of Number One St Lukes B&B, added: “The figures I see each month are busier trains coming to Blackpool. An older rail service is not the right impression.
“These trains are prone to breaking down. It seems we are being left out. It is about the here and now.
“We had a really good season last year and we want to make sure it is a pleasant experience for people to visit Blackpool.
“If we are getting more people in Blackpool, surely we need investment in the service?
“People could be put off coming here. I’ve known of instances where people have cancelled conferences because there is such a poor service.
“It just seems we are the forgotten north. Trains from the 1980s seems horrendous. It has to be a good reliable service.”
Sue Whittaker, of St Chads Hotel on the Promenade, added: “People will just not travel on it. Everyone expects a lot more from services these days. It is like a hotel – if you do not have the facilities, en-suite etc, people will be put off returning and it will be exactly like that with the trains. You need a good service across the board.”
Mark Morgan, of The Charlton Hotel on the Promenade, added: “I have not had any complaints from people who stay at our hotel about our rail services, but I would say if it is old carriages it would reflect badly on Blackpool.”
The class 156 carriages can be joined together in pairs, meaning the number of units can go up from the current service of three class 185 carriages to four.
First Transpennine Express, which will run the services, says it will provide around 800,000 extra seats a year on the route.
But the trains are also at least 10 years older than the current class 185, which will still run on half the services, and will not have a first class carriage or a catering trolley.
It also means an increase in Northern Rail rolling stock services for the Fylde coast, much of which already dates from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Hugh Evans, deputy chief executive of the North West Chamber of Commerce said: “We welcome the news there are plans to bring extra passengers to Blackpool.
“But we do not welcome the news that they plan to do so using old rolling stock that’s past its sell by date.
“Blackpool needs more visitors but if they’re arriving by train then they need to do so in comfort and style.”
The decision to add older stock to the system comes following another hike in rail fares this month, with the average cost of rail fares going up by 2.2 per cent.
The inflation-busting fare hikes for Fylde coast passengers have made taking the train more expensive than driving for many.
Since 2010, there has been a 24 per cent rise in the cost of a season ticket between Blackpool and Manchester - a jump from £2,592 in 2010 to £3,204 in 2015.
And it also comes on the back of the continued delay of the long-awaited electrification programme between Manchester and Blackpool North, which is designed to eventually allow more frequent and speedier services.
Electrification of the line between Blackpool and Manchester, originally scheduled for 2016, was put back last year until at least 2017/18.
Rail networks said trains from when that work is completed will be faster and fully refurbished – but campaigners believe these trains will date from the late 1980s.
Meanwhile in London...
The Thameslink Programme, originally Thameslink 2000, is a £6bn project in south-east England to upgrade and expand the Thameslink rail network to provide new and longer trains between a wider range of stations to the north and to the south of London without requiring passengers to change trains in London.
Crossrail is a £16bn, 118km railway line under construction in the capital. The brand new link is due to begin full operation in 2018, serving London by providing a new east-west route across the Greater London area.
High Speed 2 (HS2) is a controversial £50bn high-speed railway intended to link London Euston, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire. But it will stop at Manchester.
Move is just ‘another blow for passengers’
Rail campaigners in Blackpool said the adding of ageing stock to the system was another blow for the resort.
They argued a delay to electrification of the line to Manchester has not helped – while billions of pounds is spent on the Thameslink and Cross Rail projects in London.
Stephen Brookes, chairman of the Blackpool Passenger Users’ Panel: “The trains are just people movers. There is no comfort. Everyone’s rejects will be dropped on us, apart from the current Virgin service between Blackpool and London.
“They are giving us more seats, but they are rubbish seats. We are getting trains which are more than 20 years old, replacing trains which are six or seven years old. We are getting the older services which people do not want. It is a slap in the face.”
Paul Nettleton, of the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users’ Association added: “This has been brought about by the decision six to nine months ago for Transpennine having to give back a number of diesel units to go down south to Chiltern. As a result a void has been left.
“It is still the same service, but it is 20 to 25 years old. It is backwards – we are not going forwards.
“It is like people in the north are not allowed to have new rolling stock. We have had to put up with pacers for 30 years.”
Chris Dale, chairman of TravelWatch North West, added: “It’s about time the north got some new rolling stock - we seem to be getting cast-offs from the south-east every time.
“With the annual fare increases we are always told it will fund investment in the north but it’s been happening for years and years and we’re not seeing anything for it.”
“There’s always the promise of jam tomorrow but we haven’t even got the basic bread at the moment.”
Mr Dale added that he feared the trains would deter visitors from coming to Blackpool and that the extra seats would still not be enough to solve problems with over-crowding.
“This won’t solve the capacity problems at all - the trains to Manchester are busy at all times of day, not just rush-hour, then you have people visiting Blackpool at weekends- especially in the summer months .”
New trains are ‘not ideal’
A spokesman for TransPennine Express, which runs the services, said: “We recognise that the change of type of train that will operate some services between Blackpool and Manchester is not ideal but does represent the best possible short term solution for the whole of the north of England. “On some of these services we will not be providing a first class offering and we are currently not planning to provide a catering trolley. “The Class 156 trains do not have air conditioning on board but instead have flip down windows. “We can confirm that the Class 156 trains will have two toilets on board, increased luggage and cycle storage and importantly, 120 extra seats. This extra capacity is something that customers tell us all of the time is a key priority. “There is unprecedented levels of investment in the railway in the north which will deliver real change in the next five years. This includes the electrification and re-signalling of the route between Blackpool and Preston by 2018 which means a more reliable an punctual railway.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving journeys for rail passengers across the north, and these plans mean that more seats and more carriages will be provided on Blackpool services.
“Passengers in Blackpool now have a new direct service to London launched last month, and will benefit from electrification of the network which will bring modern trains and smoother journeys.”
MPs in Blackpool said it was clear the resort needed new rolling stock.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “This is a short term fix by the Government to try and address the issues of overcrowding on the route. “It is worrying for three reasons. First of all it will make journeys between Manchester and Blackpool less comfortable for people who have to use them regularly. “The second is that if we are going to encourage people to visit Blackpool it is not a great advert for them to come from London on a Virgin train, get off at Preston and be forced to complete their journey on something built 25 to 30 years ago. “We know that the Government has been trying to get a move of provider on Blackpool to Manchester of Northern Rail. “Given they are much older and not as modern, we could be left in a situation it is not a short term thing to increase capacity but they are using these trains as the rule rather than the exception.”
Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “I realise there has been a major problem for some time with a lot of luggage capacity for the service to and from Manchester Airport not just people coming from the airport but those coming to Blackpool for a holiday. “This needs sorting.
“It is not ideal to have older carriages.
“The investment in the line and more importantly the changes in the Manchester area and northern hub will allow direct services from more locations with rolling stock. “I met with members of First Group this week and I was quite clear new rolling stock had to be at the top of the list for Blackpool.”
What the passengers are saying...
Passengers travelling to and from Blackpool North station gave a mixed reaction to news services will be expanded with ageing rolling stock.
Anna Kirkham, 24, from Blackpool said: “I have had problems with trains being really, really late - often linked to trains breaking down, because they are older.
“I am sure these trains are slower too. The toilets are often poor too.”
Andy Bell, 27, from Blackpool added: “If the trains were bigger and better more people might end up using them more. It would help people get to other areas and into Blackpool.”
Paul Staziker, 43, of Central Drive, Blackpool, added: “It is rubbish. They are never on time. The trains are very average. I’ve been told the trains we are getting will eventually be from London. “It is the left-overs. We do not get more spent on us. The money is for down south, for business people. It is the stereotype of the poor north. We just want better facilities.”
Sarah Fox, 43, from Layton, Blackpool, added: “We always seem to get the poorer trains. I travel to Preston everyday and struggle at times with queues and tickets - it will not help to get an older service.
Sarah Noblet, 35, from Staining said: “It really is unfair. Everyone deserves the same treatment across the board. You can’t rely on the services - you can never be sure when you get on a train what time it will arrive - having an older service will not help.”
Paul Jones, 42, from Preston said: “With Blackpool Airport shutting to commercial flights you need a reliable service to the nearest major airport at Manchester. “The trains will be older and more unreliable - you could be in a scenario where people miss flights if they are delayed.”